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Not a weekend-only dad

Slalom San Francisco's James Barry shares how Slalom gives him the balance of fulfilling work and time with his family.

by James Barry

Early in my career, when people asked me what I did for a living, I told them I flew to work each week. I know you’re probably thinking, How cool, he was a pilot!… well, not exactly. I was a consultant working on client projects across the country, flying out first thing Monday morning and returning Friday evening. As luck would have it, the flights home always seemed to be delayed—never the ones heading to the office on Monday morning.

Eager to experience a new city without the blistering winters that Sweet Home Chicago offered, my wife and I moved to San Francisco. After driving across the heartland, I had 36 hours to settle into our new home, then I hopped on a red-eye flight straight to D.C. for work. Here we are, in this incredible city, and I could only spend the weekends at my new home exploring with my wife. I knew I did not want to sustain the traveling lifestyle and was yearning to work in the same city I lived in. I know, what a novel concept, yet often a foreign one for many consultants. I was accustomed to traveling weekly to whichever zip code my skillset was needed.

When I was looking for a new job, I wanted to stay in consulting because I love the variety of work. I knew a typical 9 to 5 career wasn’t for me, as I do my best work when facing new challenges. Enter Slalom—where I had found the holy matrimony of consulting without travelling! I had no clue a local-model consulting firm existed, where I could work and thrive in the same city that I now called home. That was over eight years ago. Since then, Slalom has grown considerably, initially by expanding from San Francisco into Silicon Valley, and now we just opened our third Bay Area office in the East Bay in January 2019.

As we’ve grown, the core focus on our people has remained the same. We hire people who are smart, ambitious, driven, creative, curious, and who want to challenge the status quo. I am inspired and motivated by my coworkers, and I love spending time with them both inside and out of the office. After attending my first handful of Slalom’s social events, I soon realized I wanted to have a beer with these folks outside of work and really get to know them.

What gets me out of bed in the morning

I love the challenge of what I do. There is constant change; it’s never like the great movie Groundhog Day. My role is dynamic—juggling multiple projects with various personality types and shifting priorities. Because of this I often do not know how the day will unfold when I wake up in the morning. It’s exciting for me to go in whichever direction is needed to deliver the best outcome for my clients and the people I manage.  

During my eight years with Slalom, I have evolved personally as well. My family has expanded with the addition of two wonderful kids. Being able to be home with my family throughout the week versus being a “weekend dad” means the world to me. I joke that I have a second full-time job when I am at home—which I love, don’t get me wrong—and it requires 100% of my attention when I’m outside of the office.

Leadership: The whole nine yards

I like to think of our growth model as “choose your own adventure,” i.e., choose your own career path. The structure of the company and the great people I work with have enabled me to stretch and grow to where I am today—managing a team of seven amazing people. Leaders pushed me to take the leap, try new opportunities in areas that interest me, and chase them down without the fear that failure would be a detriment to my career. It’s rewarding that throughout my career development, I was always supported to show up as my true self. I feel comfortable showing up as James—long hair, beard and all! I strongly encourage my colleagues to be their authentic selves too, as we don’t want our consultants to feel like they are just playing a role. When you are you, you bring your best self to both work and your personal life.

I really love managing my team. I like to provide guidance without playing the puppet master and giving the exact how-to direction. My management style has developed into one of coach and mentor, by helping my team understand how to handle various types of scenarios and clients. Different clients react differently to situations, so I stress that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to their situation. Mentorship has helped my team feel empowered to make those tough decisions independently once they’re in the room with the client. They draw on the critical thinking skills we developed together, and they feel empowered to apply their own style in the moment. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important to play to our strengths and feel confident in what we bring to the table. 

Opportunities to grow

One of Slalom’s core values is “do what is right, always,” which means that sometimes it’s about making a decision where you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel just yet. The notion of failure does not really exist at Slalom. Our leaders are there to support you and brainstorm how to avoid similar outcomes in the future.

We are all humans and we all make mistakes. What’s important is how you handle the mistake and the actions you take to learn and grow from it. Sometimes the best opportunity to grow is from a situation where the outcome was not the one you desired. My colleagues support one another to be better even when we are not at our best. This is why the first eight years here feel like only the beginning of my journey at Slalom.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.